BEIJING – China has ordered closer adherence to the dictates of the ruling Communist Party and leader Xi Jinping in legal education, demanding that schools “oppose and resist Western erroneous views” such as constitutional government, separation of powers, and judicial independence.
The order was dated Sunday, a week before China’s ceremonial parliament begins its annual session and reinforces the leading role on ideology assumed by Xi, who is named no less than 25 times in the document. Already China’s most powerful leader in decades, Xi was granted a third five-year term as party leader last year and has removed term limits on the presidency, effectively allowing him to rule for life.
Similar directives have been issued in past, with students encouraged to report on professors who speak positively about Western concepts of governance.
Despite the intertwining of the Chinese and global economies, Xi has sought to purge liberal Western concepts from the education system, ordered that foreign religions be “sinicized” in order to operate in China. He has also attempted, with limited success, to reorganize popular culture along more conservative lines, going so far as to ban “effeminate” men from the state broadcaster.
The legal profession has been a particular target, and in the early hours of July 9, 2015, three years into Xi's first term as party general secretary, a series of raids nationwide resulted in the detention of some 300 human rights lawyers and associated activists. Under such relentless pressure, activist lawyers have been intimidated into silence, effectively preventing the emergence of dissenting voices and public intellectuals independent of the party.
Such approaches are in line with Xi's more muscular foreign policy that seeks to challenge and possibly supplant the American-led international order that advocates for multiparty democracy, civil society and human rights.
The directive from the party’s General Office said teachers and students of law and legal theory workers must be guided to have a ”clear-cut position and take a firm stance in the face of issues of principle and major issues of right and wrong.” The General Office circulates information within the 96 million-member party, including drafting directives and memos.
In a section titled ”Adhere to the Correct Political Direction,” the directive says teachers and students must “comprehensively implement the party’s education policy, insist on educating people for the party and the country, and focus on cultivating builders and successors of the cause of socialist rule of law.”
“Oppose and resist Western erroneous views such as ‘constitutional government,’ ‘separation of three powers,’ and ‘independence of the judiciary,’ it says.
While China's constitution pays lip service to ideas such as freedom of speech and religious observation, it places the interests of the party above all. Past attempts at promoting even grassroots democracy at the village level have sputtered in the face of the party's overwhelming power and the authorities' willingness to use force and coercion to achieve their desired outcomes.
Apart from a tiny and beleaguered dissident community, the Chinese public has been largely been willing to accept total party control in return for consistent improvements in quality of life. That arrangement has at times been challenged, however, amid a drastically slowing economy, a crisis in local government finances and heavy handed enforcement of COVID-19 containment measures that have prompted rare public protests.
Criticism of the party and government policies is much more lively online, despite censorship and the threat of punishment for those who create and disseminate them.
The annual session of the National People's Congress, comprised of 2,977 handpicked members, opens Sunday with an annual report on the work of government presented by outgoing Premier Li Keqiang.
The chairman of the body is also due to issue a report, which in past years has also contained pledges to eschew Western political government such as separation of powers and an independent judiciary.